Frank Zappa

The Torture Never Stops

Song Review by

For "The Torture Never Stops," Frank Zappa traded complex meters and quirky arrangement for one of the most twisted, demented atmospheres in rock history. He released versions of it on six albums (plus a couple more on official bootlegs). The first to appear was included on the 1976 LP Zoot Allures and remains the best one, because of its studio setting. The story of "The Torture Never Stops" begins in early 1975, when it was probably first sketched. This working version was based on a blues motif and the lyrics were to be recited. It was devised for the Mothers of Invention's tour in April/May 1975 with Captain Beefheart, who sang it (a recording appears on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 4). Premiered April 11, 1975, apparently under the title "Why Doesn't Somebody Get Him a Pepsi?," it had very little to do with the studio version recorded after the tour. Zappa kept the same set of lyrics but ditched the riff, wrote a creepy melody, slowed the piece down to a crawl, and chose bare-boned arrangements; suddenly, what first appeared as a lunatic rant became a profoundly sadistic torture session happening deep inside a sinister dungeon. The sparse drumming, twangy guitar, up-close recording of Zappa's personification of an insanely calm mad scientist (you can hear him salivate), and of course those loud female cries filled with double entendre (pain or pleasure?) all contributed to the song's unforgettable mood. On-stage, the piece could not reach the same heights (or depths, if you prefer) and Zappa aimed instead at social commentary and flashy guitar solos. It was performed regularly from 1975 to 1978, and again in 1988 where it was rearranged as a medley also including the themes from Mission: Impossible and Bonanza, and "Lonesome Cowboy Burt." The song was also included in Zappa's album/intended stage production Thing Fish as "The Torchum Never Stops" -- it's basically the same studio tracks with re-recorded vocals by Ike Willis, updated lyrics to fit the plot, and, most importantly, a beautiful stand-alone piece, "The Evil Prince," slapped in the middle of it (see that song's entry for more details).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Zoot Allures 1976 Rykodisc 9:45
Cheap Thrills 1998 Rykodisc 9:16